How Grilled Asparagus Changed My Life

Image: Foodies Feed/Jakub Kapusnak

Green beans.

For about 28 years of my life, green beans were the most adventurous food I would eat. They are green, after all, and how can anything green actually be appetizing? But, hey, green beans — if cooked in enough bacon fat and chicken broth — can be mildly tasty, right?

During college and my bachelor years, my diet consisted of Chef Boyardee ravioli, Rice a Roni, Velveeta Mac and Cheese, chicken fingers, frozen fried shrimp and Bud Light. Oh yeah, and the occasional green bean. My diet sucked. And it’s not because I was trying to eat unhealthy. You see, my metabolism was off the charts, so it was nearly impossible for me to gain weight.

I didn’t want to eat the other stuff because “I didn’t like it.” My dirty little secret, though, was I never really tried anything new. I had never actually tried most of the stuff I “didn’t like.” I was in a 28-year-nutritional rut.

The Gateway Vegetable

But then something happened.

I started dating this girl, my now wife, and I visited her family in Nashville. That weekend, her mom was grilling burgers, alongside asparagus and green and red peppers. I’m the new boyfriend, visiting her family for the first time, so I’m not going to turn down food, right? Even though the thought of eating asparagus made my intestines start incessantly twerking, long before Miley made twerking cool.

My girlfriend’s mom used a simple seasoning — just a little Season All with olive oil. I tried the veggies thinking I’d have to power through dinner. But, to my surprise, they tasted…good. So I’m sitting there thinking, This is asparagus. They’re green. And they have a weird unappetizing name. They’re supposed to make your pee smell. I can’t possibly like asparagus.

But the hard truth was this: I liked asparagus. No, I really liked asparagus. In fact, I liked asparagus so much that, for the next year, if they were on the menu I would order them. Grilled, steamed, sautéed, roasted — didn’t matter. I fell in love with asparagus.

Asparagus became what I like to call the “gateway vegetable.” Once I had asparagus and liked them, my approach to eating made a complete 180 degree turn. If I actually liked this green, stalky substance, a vegetable that every ounce of me was sure I would hate, what else had I been missing out on all these years?

Almost overnight, my eating habits shifted. I would try anything at least once. Anything.

Spinach. Brussels Sprouts. Peppers. Okra. Kale. Eggplant. Zucchini. Squash. Whether it was green, red, yellow, purple, blue — no matter the color — I would eat it. Octopus. Sweetbread (not cinnamon rolls). Duck. Rabbit. Scallops. Sushi. Ceviche. Escargot. I even tried kangaroo once.

I started cooking all the time. Chicken Picatta. Caramelized Onion Risotto. All the red meat. All the pork. All the vegetables. I entered a world I never knew existed — the outside aisles at the grocery store. If it looked weird and had a weird name, then no doubt I was willing to try it.

More Than Food

Then another thing happened. The fact that I embraced something different and liked it, something I previously thought I would dislike simply because it seemed weird or unfamiliar, began to change my worldview.

What was I missing out on in life? Who had I shut out of my life because I didn’t understand them? Because I had never really given them a chance or had a meaningful conversation with them? Had I shut out entire groups of people simply because, I don’t know, I hadn’t been around them that much growing up?

Which of my long-held beliefs were just simply long-held beliefs — not because they were true, or because they had real substance — but I believed them just because I had always believed them and never considered another possibility? That’s just the way it was.

It’s interesting. Around the time I approached 30, two years after having that first round of delicious asparagus, I got married to my beautiful wife. I started cooking multiple nights a week. Soon after, we moved to Nashville, and we both took on new jobs. I met new people. I got more involved with causes and points-of-view I would’ve never considered earlier in my life.

That’s not to say I’m right, or I’ve figured this whole thing out just because I ate a dozen grilled asparagus. Fifteen years from now, I may look back at this point in my life and laugh. Maybe it’s all a knee-jerk reaction to my sheltered approach to life in my earlier years.

But I don’t think so.

I won’t always be right. I might often be wrong, actually.

But that’s not the point. The point to me is this — how much do we miss out on in life simply because we’ve never considered trying something new or stepped in someone else’s shoes for a few minutes?

We’re all going to mess up. We’re all going to, ultimately, have to take a stance and call out what’s wrong or what’s weird or what, to our subjective palettes, tastes like microwaved cow dung. Sometimes, though, by just giving that “other” a chance, we’ll learn something new that could possibly change our life.

So, yeah, your pee is going to stink. But just try the damn asparagus.


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